You may remember him as Sammie, but Leigh Bush is back for the first time! Donning a new image to go with his new name, Leigh Bush makes it very clear that he is no longer a talented child, but a man equipped with the skill and perseverance needed to keep traditional R&B alive for the next generation.
While promoting his latest release, “The Leigh Bush Project EP,” the singer/songwriter spoke to Rated RnB about his evolution from Sammie to Leigh Bush, including why he left Dallas Austin’s Rowdy Records, why he loves having women in the studio and the first time he fell in love with R&B.
JWilliams: Hey, Leigh! This is JWilliams.
Leigh Bush: Hello. How you doing, sir?
JW: I’m good! We have a couple of questions we wanted to ask you…
LB: No problem, boss.
JW: So, What prompted the name change from Sammie to Leigh Bush? Why Leigh instead of Lee?
LB: Well, Lee is my middle name and Bush is my last so, it was just a smooth transition when it came to expanding the Sammie brand. I’ve just changed and I’ve grown so much in the duration of my career—not just conceptually and as singer/songwriter or performer, but as a man. I’m 26 and it’s just time to do something different, time to be innovative and time to just kind of give myself a fresh start. Being that I’ve been professionally known as Sammie for 14 years, [the change to] Leigh Bush was something that my team and I definitely felt was necessary and it makes for a great conversation piece.
As far as the spelling, Lee is the original spelling of my middle name but, Leigh—it just does something to me. I was messing around one day with some logos and asked my team what they thought about switching the spelling of my middle name and everyone loved it, so we just kind of rolled out with it.
JW: Yeah, it’s dope. It’s different!
LB: Yeah, it’s very different.
JW: What caused you leave your last label? You were with Dallas Austin’s Rowdy Records, correct?
LB: Yeah, I asked to be released just because, a lot of people didn’t know—and there wasn’t bad blood at all. I love Dallas Austin forever and always. He’s changed my life tremendously and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even be here today. The situation at Rowdy, though, was an independent situation. So, by that, you don’t get the same backing and funding from labels that other R&B acts I’m categorize with get. I just felt that if I’m going to be indie, I’d much rather do it myself and have the freedom and creative control—not just sonically—but also with how I speak and how I choose dress, etc. That’s all. I just wanted to really get out here and be on my own, if that’s the case. R&B is already a dying genre, so to speak, so to be in an independent situation but still have to answer to other people is very, very frustrating at times. So, you know, I just wanted my freedom to be able to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, how I wanted to do it. That’s all. I think it’s admirable that he gave me the luxury and freedom to do so, because I know a lot of people in situations that they kind of don’t want to be in but, due to the business or contractual agreements, they’re obligated to stay and I think that’s very cohesive to prison and I definitely don’t want to do that. So, I love Dallas Austin and the whole Rowdy family.
JW: Right! That makes sense. We’ll touch back on R&B music in a minute, but rumor has it that the original title of your latest EP, The Leigh Bush Project, was ‘Coming of Age.’ So, with what you just told us, what is the most powerful life lesson that you’ve learned while growing up in the music industry and how has it made you a better artist?
LB: Man, I’ve been through so many different things in life—particularly speaking, in this industry—that I’ve realized everything does happen for a reason. Even in the gloomiest, darkest moments of your life, there’s a lesson to be learned. There’s always a positive perspective. You simply have to seek that. I’ve also realized that God is involved in everything. It’s easy for us to get down when things aren’t going our way, but if you would just take the time out to seek the positive and really allow God to do what he’s going to do, you’ll always end up on top.
I’ve been facing many, many battles—an ex-business partner who doesn’t want me to ever see the light of day or sell millions of records or go state-to-state sharing my gift with the world—but I know that by having a great team and people that are passionate around…sky is the limit. No man can stop me. So, I am coming of age as I age in the industry, but also in life. I’ve really embraced the good and the bad. At the end of the day, I love being me, I love music and I love sharing my gift with the fans. Everything that I go through—good or bad— is worth it.
JW: What were the musical influences for The Leigh Bush Project EP? What producers did you work with?
LB: Troy Taylor is the executive producer of The Leigh Bush Project, so shout out to my Songbook family! I also worked with J-Kits, J. Wizzard and Doh Boy, the first producer that I signed to my Star Camp label. Doh Boy produced “Free Falling,” which seems to be a fan favorite. So, I keep it real close to that because I’m big on my sound. I don’t want to just work with a plethora of big names “just because” because, sometimes, when you do projects that are not really intimate and close-knit like that, it can just start to sound like a concoction of [disconnected] songs and I always want to take people on a journey. As a result, a lot of the Songbook Entertainment/The Bar Music Group producers that helped with Insomnia (2012), helped with The Leigh Bush Project EP.
JW: With that…we always hear about artists, their studio time and the things they can’t go without. As for Leigh Bush, what are your must-have amenities in the studio?
LB: When I’m in the studio, I need some candles… *laughs* I know that’s real R&B and cliché but, I’m big on scent and I’m big on the vibe. Some Merlot…I love to drink wine when I’m writing or listening to music because it just takes me to another place and relaxes me, in a sense. And dim lighting…I don’t like for it to be well-lit in the studio. I really, really enjoy cool lighting. As long as I got that, I’m good—and just positive energy. I might invite a few ladies to the session simply because, when I’m creating music, I’m doing it for the women. So, I kind of like to watch body language and see if they start singing the hook before the song is even completed—I think its dope to put women in that element and see how the music moves them. As long as I got those things, I can come up with great music.
JW: That’s smart, because a lot of people would probably think that you’d just have women in the studio for attention, but—
LB: Yeah! A lot of people do it for the look of it, but it’s homework for me. I’m studying. When I invite ladies to the studio, it’s not because I’m trying to be cool or that’s just how I roll. It’s more so to just watch their body language. If you’re recording a sexy record, they will start to exude that. If it’s an emotional record, some girls may cry and they’ll tell you when you come out the booth, “This is touching.” I think that’s very instrumental to creating music that’s relatable to the people, especially in the R&B demographic.
JW: Definitely! Okay, so…maintaining your credibility as a traditional or “real” R&B artist has become harder to do in the recent years, with the trend of most singers relying on dance or pop records for mainstream success. What are your feelings on the current state of R&B music?
LB: As I stated earlier, it’s definitely a dying genre…but it can’t die. Although Hip-Hop is the most influential, as far as our culture goes—and Country and Pop dominate, as far as sales go—R&B makes the world go ‘round. You need that soul. You need that passion. You need that substance. I’m only 26 but, I’ve done research on Marvin Gaye, of course, Stevie Wonder—I’m an avid fan—and Al Green. Its 2013 and, when you listen to their records, you hear so much pain. You hear so much love. You hear so much heartache. These are things that, as humans, we’ve all experienced. So, it’s very essential for artists like myself—and shouts out to Miguel and Frank Ocean for keeping it alive, doing something innovative and inspiring—to just create honest music.
The day that we stop thinking about radio spins and A&Rs and just go in to the studio with a free mind and a free spirit to be artists—because that’s what we are and we’re supposed to be able to create whatever we want to create–then we’ll get back to traditional R&B. People will always gravitate towards great music. I think it’s a suffering genre, right now, but I’m going to do my best to keep it alive. For my last project, Insomnia, as well as my newest effort, The Leigh Bush Project, I’m sticking with R&B because it’s coming back around.
JW: You credited Frank Ocean and Miguel as artists you think are doing a great job in keeping R&B alive. While it’s safe to assume you’re a fan of Frank and Miguel, which other R&B newcomers are you a fan of or most excited to collab with in the future? Are you a fan of Janelle Monae or some of th—
LB: Oh, Janelle Monae is beautiful! Beautiful, beautiful spirit! Beautiful young lady! Love her music! I just had the pleasure of watching her perform in New Orleans at the Essence Music Festival and she put on a hell of a show vocally, as well as with her dancing. I love Janelle Monae. I also just watched Melanie Fiona at the RocNation event a few nights ago, down here in Atlanta. She’s refreshing and she owned the stage. So, there’s a lot of talent out. They just don’t get the support that the Hip-Hop genre gets.
At some point, R&B has to equate to sales again because that’s what people look at. I hate that numbers are so important, but we do look at first week sales. We do look at Billboard charts and BDS spins. So, there are a select few staying true to R&B and I appreciate their efforts and their craft.
JW: So, in your evolution from Sammie to Leigh Bush, what do you feel is one misconception that you think people have about you as an artist?
LB: When you’re so successful as a kid—I went platinum at the age of 13 and I went #1 on Billboard at the age of 12 with I Like It—I think that they get trapped in the element of, “Oh, that’s cute.” Music isn’t cute for me…it’s my life. I love everything from vocal arranging, to the studio, to bringing it to life on stage. That’s another reason that Leigh Bush had to come to life, because I want people to look past Sammie. I never want to forget what I’ve done and my accomplishments as Sammie, but there’s another plateau that I’m going to reach. For that to happen, [my fans] have to perceive me as the grown 26 year old that I am. I think that’s the biggest misconception.
I don’t care about the fame, to be honest with you. I’m big on being great, I’m big on respect and I’m big on being one of the best singer/songwriters of my generation. I’m not in it to be cute. Never was. Never have been. I’m very competitive and I’m very, very fixated on being one of the best of my time. That’s why I take my time with my music. I don’t rush anything and when I do give it to them, I think the reason people gravitate towards it so well is because they can tell that I took time to create art, as opposed to just throwing something out there for them to have for a sense of relevancy.
JW: Keeping the focus on your maturation as an artist, which song from “The Leigh Bush Project” EP best captures your musical growth?
LB: Aaaaaah! It’s a tie between two. I can’t pick one, but I would say “Free Falling” because that’s a very honest, vulnerable and transparent record. A lot of the girls–and it didn’t surprise me, but it kind of did–gravitated toward that record the most, because it’s just a real honest record about a man’s falling in love first. In our generation, that’s very much foreign and I do want to be the poster boy for transparency, passion and substance. For them to love that record, that shows my growth as a songwriter, as well as a vocalist and just where I am mentally.
Then, from an artsy standpoint, “Ms. Bartender.” I love that record. It’s actually the intro track to The Leigh Bush Project. I channeled a lot of Marvin Gaye in that record. Even the background vocals–there’s a point where the bridge is very choral and angelic–I freestyled that whole part. I didn’t think of it. I didn’t hear it, initially. It was just something I was doing. I pressed play and kept it going. I think as far as expanding my creativity, I showcase that in “Ms. Bartender.”
JW: Okay. Lastly, before we let you go, what is your earliest memory of falling in love with R&B music?
LB: When I was a kid…Stevie Wonder. I used to listen to the Conversation Peace album repeatedly until it started to scratch. My father used to play it for me every day when I would go to school and before I would go to football practice. People have always said I have an old soul, so I could connect to the storytelling. I could see what he was talking about and I love Stevie for that. He painted the best pictures with his words. Then, of course, his instrumentation is phenomenal and his singing ability is unmatched. I think that’s one of the greatest talents to ever grace the earth. The first time I heard Stevie Wonder is when I knew R&B was something I wanted to be a part of.
JW: That’s whats up! Well, thank you for your time, Leigh. We hope to hear more from you soon. Do you have any other projects coming in the near future?
LB: Thank you! I appreciate the support. Currently, The Leigh Bush Project is available on iTunes. It came out on October 15th and debuted in the Top 10, so I want to tell my fans “thank you” for that. If you don’t have it, make sure you get it and spread the word! Leigh Bush Part 2 will be out early next year and then, around the 3rd quarter, the LP will be out for the people to have and embrace.
JW: Nice! Thank you, again, for your time!
LB: Thank you!
JWilliams is a contributing writer for Rated RnB. For more from JWilliams, visit http://JWilliams.TV.